The Moon will pass last quarter phase, rising in the middle of the night and appearing prominent in the pre-dawn sky.
From Seattle, it will be visible in the dawn sky, rising at 00:37 (PST) – 3 hours and 35 minutes before the Sun – and reaching an altitude of 26° above the south-eastern horizon before fading from view as dawn breaks around 03:48.
At this time in its monthly cycle of phases, it appears almost exactly half illuminated.
As it progresses through this cycle, it is visible at different times of day. At last quarter, it rises in the middle of the night and appears high in the sky by dawn. It sets at around lunchtime. More information about the Moon's phases is available here.
A thin crescent
The months around the autumn equinox – September and October in the northern hemisphere – present the best opportunity to see a very thin crescent Moon immediately before sunrise in the days running up to new moon.
This comes about because the Moon appears higher in the dawn sky sooner after new moon in the autumn months as compared to other times of year.
At all times, the Moon lies close to a line across the sky called the ecliptic, which is shown in yellow in the planetarium above. This line traces the path that the Sun takes through the zodiacal constellations every year, and shows the plane of the Earth's orbit around the Sun. Since all the planets circle the Sun in almost exactly the same plane, they too move across the sky following the same line.
When the Moon is widely separated from the Sun, it is separated from it along the line of the ecliptic. But, at different times of year, the ecliptic meets the horizon at different angles at sunrise. This means that a certain number of days after new moon, the Moon appears at different altitudes above the horizon at different times of year.
At sunrise, the ecliptic makes its steepest angle to the horizon at the autumn equinox – in September in the northern hemisphere, and in March in the southern hemisphere. Conversely, it meets the horizon at its shallowest angle at the spring equinox. And so, very thin crescent moons are most visible in the dawn sky in the autumn.
The inclination of the ecliptic plane to the horizon at Seattle varies between 65° (sunrise at the autumn equinox) and 18° (sunrise at the spring equinox). On June 12, the ecliptic is inclined at 33° to the eastern dawn horizon.
The exact moment of last quarter
The exact moment of last quarter is defined as the time when the Moon's ecliptic longitude is exactly 90° away from the Sun's ecliptic longitude, as observed from the center of the Earth. However, the Moon does not appear in any way special at this instant in time, and a last quarter moon can be observed at any time in the pre-dawn sky.
At the moment it reaches last quarter, the Moon's distance from the Earth will be 388,000 km. Its celestial coordinates will be as follows:
|Object||Right Ascension||Declination||Constellation||Angular Size|
The coordinates above are given in J2000.0.
|The sky on 07 December 2021|
3 days old
All times shown in PST.
|12 Jun 2278||– Moon at Last Quarter|
|20 Jun 2278||– New Moon|
|28 Jun 2278||– Moon at First Quarter|
|05 Jul 2278||– Full Moon|
Simulated image courtesy of Tom Ruen.